Telemann’s Opera: »Miriways«

Back after almost 300 years: Telemann’s opera »Miriways« at the Telemann Festival 2017 in Hamburg.

A legendary conquest, forbidden love and the exoticism of the Orient – the composer Georg Philipp Telemann packed some real dynamite and highly topical world affairs into his opera, which was premiered in Hamburg in 1728. More than enough reason to revive it in Hamburg to mark the 250th anniversary of the Baroque composer’s death. After almost 300 years Telemann’s opera »Miriways« was presented at the Telemann Festival 2017 in Hamburg.

Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin © Daniel Dittus

Rehearsal insights: Academy of Ancient Music Berlin

»The Laeiszhalle is the ideal venue, Hamburg the ideal city, for such a production.«

Bernhard Forck, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

Telemann: Der Produktive

As cantor and musical director of Hamburg’s five main churches, one of Telemann’s biggest responsibilities was to produce sacred music. He did so industriously. With around 1,750 church cantatas, 16 masses and more than 40 passions, no major composer can hold a candle to him in terms of productivity. As director of the Oper am Gänsemarkt, however, he was also passionate about theatre, and he wrote operas full of excitement and intrigue – such an opera is »Miriways«.

Oper am Gänsemarkt
Oper am Gänsemarkt © Richard Petzoldt / VEB

»Mirth, drama, jokes and variety – it has something for everyone.«

Bernard Labadie, Dirigent

Miriways: THE PLOT

Rebellion in Persien

Hamburg, 1723: The newspapers are full of the latest from the Orient. A certain Miriways, an Afghan tribal chief, is reported to have conquered Persia. Great fodder for Telemann, who is sitting on plans for a new opera. Five years later his new work, »Miriways«, is performed in the Oper am Gänsemarkt. The opera takes events in Persia as a topical hook, but the plot is actually fiction.


Miriways, the Afghan tribal leader, has conquered the hostile Persians and has been able to establish his rule. Not so in the opera, where Miriways is a benevolent ruler. In order to maintain the independence of the Persians, he offers Sophi, the son of the enemy he overthrew, the Persian throne. On one condition: Sophi must marry Miriways’s missing daughter.

Sophi rejects the offer. He loves Bemira, whose ancestry is unknown. But Miriways stands firm: he intends to force a marriage of convenience upon Sophi, and that despite having been married against his will himself as a young man. Back then, he was also forced to give away his illegitimate daughter.

Georg Philipp Telemann, Kupferstich von Georg Lichtensteger, 1745
Georg Philipp Telemann (1745) © Georg Lichtensteger

One big, confusing tangle of relationships. Love versus the interests of state. And then? Telemann left the back door open for himself. The two potential wives, Sophi’s beloved and Miriways’s daughter, turn out to be one and the same: Bemira. So there is a happy end to the family drama after all!


No artist shaped Hamburg’s musical history for so long and in such a lasting way as Telemann – he was responsible for the Hanseatic city’s music for 50 years. From virtuosic Italian arias, French dances, strict counterpoint and Polish folk music, the Hamburg resident by choice had a thorough mastery of the European musical styles. He was surely the most diverse and cosmopolitan composer of his day. To mark the 250th anniversary of his death, Hamburg’s Telemann Festival remembered the »uncrowned king of all music« (Die Welt) 2017 with several concerts.

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